Ursula von der Leyen leaves door wide open to parliament deal with Meloni

The campaign debate, held in the European Parliament in Brussels, rarely saw tensions flare between the five candidates on the stage

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen gave the clearest indication she would be prepared to rely on votes from Giorgia Meloni’s rightwing Brothers of Italy to secure a second term in office after the next elections, during a campaign debate on Thursday.

Ms Von der Leyen was pressed several times about where she would look to find enough votes in the next European Parliament to confirm her re-election to the top EU job. Polls predict the current ruling majority of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), centrists Renew and the centre right European People’s Party (EPP) will be much slimmer after the elections in early June.

The commission president said she had been “working well” with Ms Meloni since she became Italian prime minister. The conservative leader had shown she was “clearly pro European”, against Vladimir Putin and “pro rule of law”, Ms Von der Leyen said. On that basis, she said she would be prepared to work with her when trying to form a majority in parliament.

Ms Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, a party with Eurosceptic roots that has faced criticism for its position on abortion and LGBT+ rights, is likely to win the most seats in Italy next month and become a bigger player in the next European Parliament.


The party sits in the hard right grouping of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), alongside Law and Justice, the Polish party that clashed with the commission while in power over the erosion of the rule of law in Poland. Ms Von der Leyen said her openness to working with Ms Meloni’s party did not mean she was willing to work with all of the ECR group.

The campaign debate, held in the European Parliament in Brussels, rarely saw tensions flare between the five candidates on the stage. Nicolas Schmit, lead candidate for the centre-left S&D group, said the EU should to be “much tougher” on member states found to be flouting the rule of law. He was also highly critical of agreements the EU had made with “nasty regimes” such as Tunisia, to provide huge amounts of funding in exchange for help curbing the number of migrants crossing the Mediterranean to Europe.

Sandro Gozi, one of the lead candidates of the centrist Renew group, said it would be “impossible” to allow more countries to join the EU without first reforming the union. There was no space for any “backlash” or pushback to the ambitious climate policies the EU had signed up to in recent years, he said.

The need for EU countries to unanimously agree on decisions about foreign policy and security should be scrapped, said Terry Reintke, co-president of the Greens group. “We cannot give people like Viktor Orban a veto right on our security,” she said. Walter Baier of the European Left group called for the EU to place sanctions on Israel to stop the “murdering” of Palestinian civilians in the war in Gaza.

Despite the heavy focus on policy, the big takeaway from the debate will be Ms Von der Leyen’s clear signal of her willingness to work with Ms Meloni’s party, which could spook her supporters in Renew and the S&D. It remains to be seen just how far the commission president can stretch the prospective coalition for her re-election across the political spectrum, without one end causing the metaphorical elastic band to snap.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times